BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS: DIPLOMACY, ECONOMICS, JOURNALISM AND JAPANOLOGY;
BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE
BACK TO CANBERRA
1. A Bob Hawke Connection
2. ANU Connections
3. The Stephen Fitzgerald Connection
4. Out of External Affairs; Discovering Canberra's True Role over Vietnam
5. Reorganising a Career
6. The ASIO Dogs Unleashed
Two large policemen emerged from the other car.
I told Hawke to stay where he was, that I would handle things. I would tell the police he should be excused since the Victorian number-plates on his car proved he was not familiar with Canberra's exotic road rules.
I got nowhere, and Hawke could see this. He got out of the car, brushed me aside and took the two men down the road for a talk. Ten minutes later the two policemen were slapping him on the back and insisting that 'she'll be right, Bob.'
Hawke's ability to handle people was impressive, certainly much more so than mine. It would serve him well in his later political career.
I, on the other hand, would get no more than a fairly casual greeting from Hawke. By this time I was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and Hawke, like many on the ALP Right, including Whitlam, generally tried to avoid contact with us anti-Vietnamers. They saw us as deluded people doing harm to ALP policies (though they were the first to claim a victory for ALP policies when the US was finally pushed out of Vietnam).
On his visits to Japan in the early seventies, allegedly to talk to Japanese trade union chiefs and while I was working as correspondent for The Australian, Hawke was even more aloof. But that was understandable. I had already published some criticism of the 1975 Whitlam administration, which made me persona non grata with most of the ALP, the rightwing especially.
I think I finally made Hawke's blacklist after he became prime minister and I began to criticise his 'rationalist' economic policies, the conventional and harmful wisdom in the early 1980's.
At the time Hawke's admirers were saying how his Rhodes scholarship to Oxford was proof of his economic genius. So I decided to go public with that 1957 letter from my father (mentioned earlier) to make it clear that Hawke's economics supervisor in Oxford at the time was not impressed with his grasp of the subject. Here is what my father had had to say:
I must say that I think Hawke is showing some effrontery. He turned up in Oxford with an I-know-it-all-already attitude, and thought that if we just showed him one or two more tricks of the trade he could be a complete authority on wage fixing. We found, not only that he did not know any economics at all, but that he was far too stubborn to learn any. So we got him to drop his thesis and transferred him to Where,* to write a thesis in the sub-faculty of politics, which we thought would be easier.
Hawke's principal interest was cricket...
*(Kenneth Where, Australian-born professor of Government and Public Administration)
But I am getting ahead of my story, which had me departing the USSR in April 1965.
2. ANU (Australian National University) Connections
Arriving in London, on the first leg of the return trip to Canberra, it was already clear that the establishment was not very impressed by the way I had decided to leave Moscow so quickly.
In Canberra, the reception was also chilly. I set about planning the new career I had promised myself.
The first move was to check out that large Canberra employer of ex- bureaucrats - the Australian National University. In 1962, when I had just returned from Hongkong and was working in the External Affairs' East Asia section, and well before I had emerged as a critic of government policies, I had been approached with a good job offer from John (later Sir John) Crawford who wanted to set up a research centre on the Chinese economy.
I also had an offer from J.D.B.Miller, the head of the ANU international relations department, to become a researcher in his own department. Both were keen to recruit Chinese language speakers, and I was one of the very few of that species in Canberra at the time. Crawford also claimed a personal bond since he had co-authored a book with my father on the Australian economy and shared my father's strong interest in agricultural economics.
I turned down both offers, saying EA were already hinting that I would posted to Moscow in a year or so, and that when I returned I would be much more valuable to the ANU since, in addition to Chinese, I would also have Russian and Sino-Soviet experience - a hot topic at the time. Both had seemed to accept that idea.
But when I did return in 1965, it was fairly clear we would not have much to say to each other. Crawford was making headlines with savage tirades against ANU students with the good sense and conscience to demonstrate against the Vietnam War.
Miller was handing out grave warnings about the threat from China, and his department had been stacked with a lot of strange people from strange places who seemed to have briefs rigidly to support government positions on China and Vietnam.
In any case I had already had a gut-full of studying Communist societies and their secretive ways. China was still off limits to all but the most pro-Beijing of academics, and it would be a long time before I would want to return to Moscow. I decided to move into economics and Japan, partly because my earlier Oxford interest in economics still lingered, partly because Japan was already emerging as an important economic power, and partly because I wanted follow up on the interest in Japan I had picked up in Hongkong and Moscow.
At the time, the Research School of Pacific Studies at the ANU was giving quite generous scholarships for PhD research into Asian countries. The economics department there was headed by my former Canberra University College economics teacher, Heinz Arndt. Even before leaving Moscow I had written to him about gaining a scholarship to study in his department. He had sent an encouraging reply.
Soon after returning to Canberra I went to see Arndt. He felt that despite my lack of formal qualifications in economics, the second year economics I had studied with him back in 1958, plus my Chinese, would allow him to recommend me for a scholarship to study some aspect of the Japanese economy.
It would be a three year scholarship, with the promise of an extra year to do field work in Japan and learn Japanese (at the back of both our minds was the naïve belief that knowing Chinese would somehow allow me within a year to master enough Japanese to do original research). Arndt even suggested a research topic for me - Japan's private direct investment abroad - mainly because of his interest in the unusual ways in which the Japanese were beginning to invest in Indonesian resource development.
Of course, I did not want entirely to abandon my hard-gained China and Russia involvements. But I felt sure I could return to both or either if I wanted, after I had finished up with Japan and economics.
But the hope of reviving a China connection was soon to be demolished, largely due to a chance meeting with another Chinese language speaker, Stephen Fitzgerald.
3. The Stephen Fitzgerald Connection
Like me, Fitzgerald had joined External Affairs directly from university, but a few years after me. He had followed me into the Chinese language course at Point Cook and then on to the two year Hongkong posting. We had been casually friendly with each other but I had not followed his movements closely. I only ran into him rather by accident sometime in the middle of 1962 during a Saturday morning shopping expedition to Canberra's Civic Centre. He had just returned from Hongkong and was looking for a job.
Like me, he said, he had decided he could not put up with Canberra's anti-Beijing hysteria and wanted out. But with a degree in English literature from Tasmania, and still inadequate Chinese, his prospects for a new career outside EA were bleak.
Did I have any ideas?
I said I had one, a good one.
And as it turned out, it was too good. I would do myself a lot of damage as a result.
At the back of my mind was the thought that the offer I had received from J.D.B.Miller in 1962 might still be open. I made an appointment to call on George Modelski, a US academic who was temporarily in charge of the International Relations department while Miller was away on some study tour. I told him how I was planning to move into the economics department and would not be taking up Miller's earlier offer, but that Fitzgerald might be available.
Modelski confirmed that the department still needed a Chinese speaker, and that while they could not give Fitzgerald the research post they had originally offered me, they could offer him a PhD scholarship to work on China.
I passed the offer on to Fitzgerald, who accepted it, eagerly.
At the time I realised vaguely the risk involved - that Fitzgerald would come to be seen as the resident China expert and make it that much harder for me to move back to China later, when I had finished with Japan. But for me at the time that seemed a lesser problem.
Far more important was for me to have a friend at court, so to speak, within the ANU. I would not be so isolated. The world would come to know that not just I, but that both the people External Affairs had trained as China specialists had moved out because they found it hard to live with Canberra's eccentric view of China.
Even better, I hoped he would back me up if and when I got involved in criticising Canberra's China policies.
I was soon to realise my mistake. Later, when I did begin to criticise Canberra's policies Fitzgerald did little to support me, either at the ANU or outside. He wanted simply to keep his head down and his nose clean.
No doubt he felt that to be branded as a public dissenter in the same camp as Clark would jeopardize a future academic career, in Australia generally and in Canberra especially. And as I was to discover later, he was right.
Even so, his refusal to help back me up hurt a lot at times. But there was little I could do about it.
Later, when Whitlam decided it was safe to embrace Beijing, Fitzgerald made a spectacular run within the ALP (which I had with difficulty encouraged him to join back in 1965) as the party's expert on China.
He ended up in 1972 as Canberra's first Australian ambassador to Beijing – to an embassy which might not have existed till much later but for some moves I was to make in my Tokyo years (details later).
He also made quite sure that one Gregory Clark never had a chance to get back into anything concerned with China (details later). That was to hurt a lot more.
4. Out of External Affairs; Discovering Canberra's True Role over Vietnam
With my ANU scholarship decided, I was able finally to work out my future with External Affairs. They had, understandably, been at a loss to know what to do with me after my Moscow tantrums. But I was still formally a member of their department, and they continued to treat me as such.
They even sent me to Malaysia for a few weeks to star in a training film on how a young diplomat sets about opening a new mission in an Asian country (years later, long after I had come out in open criticism of EA, I heard they were still using the training film).
They also sent me to Melbourne for the standard ASIO post-Moscow de-briefing. At one point ASIO's alleged expert on the USSR confronted me with a report I had written from Odessa in 1964. In it I had noted that the local KGB headquarters was just around the corner from my hotel.
Convinced he had trapped a KGB agent red-handed, alleged expert stood up suddenly and asked threatenly how I knew such an intimate detail as the KGB location.
I had to explain to him that the KGB was a public organisation, and that it liked to display its title - Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopastnosti -in large letters on brass plates in front of its local headquarters throughout the Soviet Union.
Such was the level of Australian spy expertise on the Communist Bloc in those days!
Most of the time I was parked in the East Asia section where I kept myself busy going back over the files on China and Vietnam policy, making sure I kept away from a embarrassing confrontation over any request to see anything too secret. But I did discover one very important fact: this was that Canberra had been even more hawkish than Washington over Vietnam, mainly because of its visceral fear of China.
The Vietnam Story
Worse, it had played a key role in urging the US to escalate its involvement at crucial moments when some in Washington seemed keen to pull back. Canberra had felt that even the US was not quite as aware of the China threat as it should have been.
This was explosive information, since at the time the media, the leftwing and many others wanted to believe that Canberra had only got involved in Vietnam reluctantly, under pressure from its powerful US friend.
The reality was the complete opposite: Canberra had put the pressure on Washington. It had acted as agent provocateur, to make sure that the intervention was carried through thoroughly, to the very end, until the Chinese dragon had finally beeen exterminated.
In later years I tried hard in several writings to bring this crucial fact out into the open. I saw it as a most significant development in Australian foreign policy - far more important than the many trivial foreign policy issues being debated at the time. But I was never able to make any impact on that biased, complacent, brain-dead concoction that passes for informed Australian foreign affairs opinion.
Another researcher (Michael Sexton ) stumbled on the same facts many years later when some official records were released. But his excellent and informed writings too were largely ignored. Public, media and academic attention focused on mainstream gurus such as Bruce Grant with their long and irrelevant treatises on whether or not ANZUS obliged Australia to support US policies over Vietnam.
In fact, the involvement had little to do with ANZUS, SEATO or any of the other five lettered organisations dragged out publicly to justify or criticise Canberra's position. The involvement was pure and simple 'made in Australia.' It was based on a fear of China even more brittle and misguided than anything coming out of the US.
Far from being led by the US into Vietnam, Canberra was anxiously trying to lead the US.
But getting this very important point across to Australia's foreign affairs establishment was like pushing the proverbial mud uphill with a pointed stick. As I was later to discover in Japan, once a conventional wisdom takes hold the simple tribalistic mind does not want to have to think about anything to the contrary.
But I am getting away from my chronicle, again.
5. Reorganising a Career
As part of my EA end game, I also asked for, and was granted, time off to return to Point Cook to take the UK Foreign Office A level (top level) interpreter exam in Russian.
I knew that if I was to leave EA (as was increasingly likely), I would need all the qualifications I could get to put on my CV. Having gained the same qualification in Chinese while still in Hongkong, I knew the Russian qualification would not be too demanding.
My guess proved right. A week later my CV was able to boast two languages: Chinese and Russian, Foreign Office, A level.
Meanwhile Heinz Arndt had come through with the promise of PhD research scholarship in his ANU department.
With the ANU scholarship confirmed, I decided to seek a formal meeting with James Plimsoll, then the EA permanent head.
I said that I was reluctant to leave the organisation which had nurtured me and had helped train me in Chinese. On the other hand, I did have a serious disagreement with Canberra's China and Vietnam policies, and that this would make it hard for me to continue to work in an organisation committed to those policies.
Plimsoll was, as many others have said, a very courteous man. He treated me most politely, even though I was in effect saying that he and his department were a bunch of misguided murderers. He said it was a pity for the Department to lose a Chinese speaker, even if at the time they had little use for such people. Then he added some very important words:
'Why don't you just take a few years study leave and come back to us after the Vietnam thing is over.'
It seemed a sensible compromise, and I agreed. I applied for and got the unpaid study leave he had recommended. Soon after I began my new career as a post-graduate student on a stipend of 2,500 pounds a year, and to wait 'till the Vietnam thing was over.'
Becoming a Student
It was still only May, and the scholarship did not begin till September. My first move was to do something about my post-Podolsk resolution to try to gain more maturity and experience of the real world outside diplomacy and bureaucracy.
One move was to buy guitar (it remained almost completely unused). Another was to start to get involved with ANU student life. And yet another was to subject myself to hard physical work and a proletarian lifestyle.
I got a 20 pound a week day job with a gang of workers planting radiata pine trees in the rocky hills outside Canberra. Meanwhile I was also throwing myself into the mild hedonism of student nightlife in Canberra at the time. I also sought out Russian speakers to help me indulge in some post-Moscow nostalgia.
Setting out on a frosty Canberra morning to drive a dozen or so miles to work eight hours with a bunch of rough laborers (most were on probation from the local jail I discovered later), planting trees and returning exhaused in the evening to shower and clean up before going to speak Russian with emigres, or to yet another free-for-all student party, was one of life's more interesting contrasts.
Meanwhile I had to decide whether I really did wanted to return to EA after the few years promised by Plimsoll. The Vietnam War was heating up. Almost daily I would wake up to the sickening news of yet another B52 bombing raid over North Vietnam and the gloating US body count numbers.
At the Canberra University College they had just held Canberra's first 'moratorium' debate over Vietnam. The leftwing and anti-war arguments had been weak; little effort was made to answer rightwing claims that the war was part of Beijing's aggressive moves southward, that the Vietcong were dreadful people guilty of atrocities etc etc.
I remember particularly one 'moratorium' meeting where the rightwing lawyer and later prominent Liberal Party politician, Tom Hughes, had quoted a statement from the North Vietnamese newspaper, Hoc Tap, predicting something along the lines of 'the inevitable failure of the US aggressors to defeat the spirit of the Vietnamese people.'
'Hoc Tap!' Hughes repeated sarcastically, as if a newspaper with such a ludicrous name could possibly dare to challenge the world's super-power. The crowd loved it. He could have said 'Hot Toddy' and the crowd would have loved that even more.
I knew then that sooner or later I would have to go public and try to answer these people.
Apart from anything else, I had a mine of information, about China especially, that could help the anti-war arguments. But to be criticising government policy while still a government official on study leave would be impossible. Not just logic but commonsense also demanded I should make a clean break.
On the other hand, I still had a kind of emotional attachment to my former employer.
EA in those days had a strongly familial atmosphere. We were all members of a small, tightly knit club that saw itself as separate not only from the rest of Australian society but also from other departments and bureaucrats . People looked after each other. Promotion at the early levels was mainly through seniority; the dog-eat-dog of today's Canberra bureaucracy did not exist.
I still remember with affection the two mid-rank officers above me in East Asia section in 1962 - Ken Rodgers and Keith Douglas-Scott. Both went out of their way to teach me how to prepare submissions, use files etc. It was a very natural version of the sempai-kohai (older generation-younger generation) phenomenon I was later to find in Japan.
Not much of that altruism can be found in today's Canberra, where helping some young firebrand today could well mean seeing him promoted over your head tomorrow. But in those days it was a very attractive and, as in Japan, a very efficiency-promoting aspect of the bureaucracy.
Nor was there was ever any hint of reprimand or ostracism for people who disagreed with official policies; Plimsoll's tolerant attitude to me was but one example. After all, we were all members of the same elite club, weren't we? Did I really want to wander off into the cold world outside, simply so I could bite the hand that had fed and looked after me for so long?
6. ASIO dogs unleashed
But that piece of sentimentalism did not last long. Soon after I was to run into a particularly ugly piece of ASIO bastardy and EA cowardice. It helped me easily to forget any kind of emotional obligation I might have felt towards my former employer.
It happened like this:
Having arranged my study leave, I had decided, foolishly in retrospect, to tell the Department about the Podolsk incident. At the back of my mind was the idealistic notion that they would appreciate knowing the details of yet another serious KGB operation against their Moscow embassy. As well, I wanted to clear the record about the reasons for my wanting to leave Moscow in a hurry.
All that EA had had up to that moment was some agitated correspondence from me turning down the New York posting, and some jumbled remarks about a lovesick Moscow maid - details that would not enhance a future career as a diplomat if I was to return after a few years at the ANU.
I needed to get on the record exactly what had been happpening to me in those crucial last few months in Moscow.
I approached Peter Henderson, then head of EA administration (and later EA permanent head), to give him the true story. But he wanted no part of it, and immediately summoned ASIO people to question me. For the best part of a day I was politely, but thoroughly, grilled in an ASIO safe room close to Canberra's Civic Center.
At the time I accepted that this ASIO grilling was probably inevitable. But soon after I began to realise that my car was being tailed (my Moscow experience had made me very sensitive to back-mirror sightings). My telephone was also beginning to make curious noises.
In short, my offer to tell the truth about Moscow had backfired, badly. The ASIO dogs had been unleashed, and had leaped at the chance to home in on a former Moscow-based diplomat, particularly one who could speak two dangerous communist languages - Chinese and Russian. Finally they could get their teeth into one of those leftwing EA types, and one who could not fight back.
I had left a life of being under constant suspicion and harassment on one side of the Iron Curtain. I was now getting much the same treatment on the other side. Charming.
But worse was to follow, namely the botched ASIO attempt to trap me into incriminating myself which I have written up elsewhere. But let me summarise the details.
One evening in the early spring of 1965 I had a phone call from someone claiming to be an employee of the Soviet Embassy. He said, in Russian, that a senior Embassy official (Petrov I think it was, someone I had met in Moscow before his posting to Canberra) wanted to talk to me urgently and could I be at the corner of such and such a street in the nearby suburb of Campbell at 9pm. Petrov would be there to meet me.
Obviously I was puzzled. I realised that the KGB might still be wanting to do some kind of follow-up on me as a result of the Volodya affair (see previous chapter). But why try to do it in such a crude and obvious way? And the voice of the caller was elderly, which also seemed strange for a Soviet Embassy employee.
Then the penny dropped. For in describing the alleged rendezvous of Campbell the caller had used the old Russian pre-revolutionary word 'uezd' for suburb, instead of the post-revolution word 'raiyon.'
In other words, the caller was probably one of the elderly White Russians employed by ASIO for their various stunts. What should I do?
As I thought about it I realised I was in a classic Catch 22 situation. And not just one Catch 22. Two, or maybe even three.
I was curious to follow up on the call to find out if it was genuine or not. But if it was genuine, why?.
If it was not genuine, then I would have confirmation of ASIO acting against me. Either way it would clear up some of the fog created by the phone tapping and car following.
But if the call was genuine, it would very likely have been monitored by the ASIO phone bugs. If it was not genuine, then obviously ASIO knew about that too.
In other words, genuine or not, if I followed up on it, ASIO would have had all the confirmation they wanted to nail me as a would-be Soviet agent.
But if I did not follow up on it I would still be in trouble since, as someone still on the books as a public servant, even if on study leave, I was obliged to report any untoward approach from the Soviets in Canberra.
I would be on yet another blacklist - the one reserved for public servants who failed to report attempted contacts by Communist bloc officials.
But if I reported the call, I would go on yet another list - this time the list of people whom the Soviets felt they could use for un-Australian activities – even if I had not done anything to follow up.
Thinking about it all I came up with what I though would be a neat solution: I would immediately report the incident to John Elliot, the then ASIO representative in Canberra, and whom I had known earlier in Hongkong where he had posed as an Immigration official and where by coincidence one of his jobs was monitoring the movement of White Russian refugees from China into Australia.
I would ask for an immediate meeting with him and with the senior EA personnel official (Keith Brennan - whom I had known earlier from Taiwan) since I was still theoretically a member of his department
I would suggest to both of them that it was my patriotic duty to follow up on the call, to discover if indeed the Soviets were wanting to use me for some anti-Australia plot. I would then, of course, report everything back to them. In the process, I told myself, I would be able to get to the bottom of whether the call was genuine or not.
Both agreed that I should follow up on the call (in the presence of Brennan it would have been hard for the ASIO man to say no). But even as I arrived at the purported rendezvous it was obvious that the call had been false.
If Elliot had thought it was real, he would have posted unobtrusive cars near the site to monitor everything. But there was not a single car in sight. In short, he had known from the beginning that it was phony and had probably organised it himself using one of his White Russian contacts.
Nor was there anyone from the Soviet embassy. From the start it had been an ASIO plot to incriminate me, whatever I did.
It was a humiliating experience. Not only was I now seen as a legitimate target for KGB-style stunts; the Australian version of the KGB was so incompetent that it had to rely on White Russian relics who could not even speak the contemporary Russian needed to handle their stunts.
ASIO's inferiority complexes towards External Affairs were well-known. Many of its staff were people who had failed to get into EA. And while we EA types traveled the world, most of the ASIO people had to hang out for most of their careers in boring Melbourne.
They were also rabid hawks. As the would-be guardians of Australian security, they liked to see us EA people as cosmopolitan, pinko softies vulnerable to communist wiles. Now, thanks to my willingness to tell them about Pololsk, they had had one of these types delivered directly into their incompetent hands. A rare pleasure for them, no doubt, since normally ASIO people were kept on a tight leash when it came to moving against EA people.
ASIO's eccentricities were well-known in the bureaucracy and no one wanted them interfering in foreign policy making.
Soon after I was able to finesse Elliot into having tacitly to admit that his organisation had staged the whole affair. I did that by the simple device of suggesting to him that I followup with 'Petrov' about the failed rendezvous when I met him (Petrov) at a Soviet Embassy reception to which I had been invited in the following week.
If Elliot said yes, then it was possible the call had been genuine and 'Petrov' had backed out at the last moment. If he said no then it was clear that he did not want the ASIO stunt to be revealed. Elliot's negative reaction told me all I wanted to know.
But there was still one loose end. For in reporting the call to Brennan, I would automatically have incriminated myself since EA, being out of the ASIO loop, would have to assume that it was possible the call was genuine even though I had done what I could to prove it was not genuine. None of that would look very nice on my CV if I decided 'after the Vietnam thing was over' to resume a diplomatic career.
I wrote to Plimsoll asking for the Department to contact ASIO, to check whether I had indeed been the target of an ASIO exercise. I said EA did not need to tell me the result of the enquiry. But they did need to get the true story for their own records.
Plimsoll's point blank refusal to do anything was the last straw I needed to make me decide to get out of the system. A week later I lodged my formal resignation from External Affairs. There would be no waiting for the ' Vietnam thing' to end. I would be fully committed to the Vietnam debate just beginning to unfold.
Years later I was to discover, via a researcher into ASIO affairs, that Elliot had got himself into severe trouble for the botched entrapment stunt. He had been convinced he had discovered an Australian Philby.
But why in severe trouble? After all it could be said he was only doing his job. Maybe it was for triggering my resignation (Chinese plus Russian speakers were a rare breed in those days and I had already been told by Plimsoll that EA did not want to lose one of them) then EA can only blame itself. If it had simply told me 'yes, we have checked with ASIO and we have noted what they had to say' then it is quite likely that I would not have decided to resign.
On my file there would have been a notation that (a) that the affair was an ASIO stunt, and (b) that in any case I had been prepared to cooperate with the authorities to frustrate a potential Soviet plot. I would have been registered as 'clear.' I would have felt that I still had the basis for a continued career.
EA's refusal even to do that gave me little choice but to resign.